476 AD - 1453 AD

The medieval period, often called the Middle Ages, spans approximately one thousand years, from the fifth to the fifteenth century AD. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD marks its inception, while the fall of Constantinople (and the Byzantine Empire) to the Ottomans in 1453 AD marks its end. The cultures of Western Europe during this period were feudal--that is, strictly hierarchal--in nature. Each region was ruled by a monarch and, over the course of the centuries, grew more distinct from its neighbors, eventually becoming a defined nation. The Western medieval world was one of shifting alliances and open hostilities, but it was nominally unified by (and, in theory, governed by) the Christian Church.

Medieval art, while drawing upon the Greco-Roman tradition, differed considerably. The varying styles of the cultures comprising medieval Western Europe are the results of the stylistic transition which occurred in the Late Antique period. Medieval art also took certain distinctive traits from the local culture--be it English, French, Italian, etc.--most of which had Germanic origins or connections. However, the common thread of all Western medieval art was religious faith. Medieval art focused upon internal and spiritual, rather than external or physical, perfection. Artists used the visual medium as a means of religious guidance and a product of devotion. They portrayed their subjects symbolically rather than realistically, forgoing the naturalistic idealism of the Greeks for spiritualistic idealism.